4 tips to stop your HDR TV from giving you sore eyes

High Dynamic Range (HDR) video is a basic feature that is compatible with nearly all modern TVs.

It doesn’t mean that they all have the same performance as several HDR TVs are brighter than their older, non-HDR counterparts. Innovations like mini-LED have also made TVs even brighter.

Bright and colourful images of these TVs are a pleasure for your eyes, but brighter doesn’t always mean better.

Although brighter TVs make it easier to watch in a well-lit room, it also brings out the real highlights of HDR.

High-quality movies and TV shows are best enjoyed in a dark room to reduce reflections and help increase contrast.

With the lights down low, the extreme brightness of many of these TVs can cause eye fatigue and irritation in some cases.

Here are a few things that you can do about this:

HDR and Brightness ‘issues’ explained

High dynamic range, or HDR, is one of the latest TV technologies. It’s available on PlayStation and Xbox game consoles and streaming services. Nearly all TVs and streaming devices that have 4K resolution also handle HDR.

Mid- and higher-end TVs offer significantly more brightness when watching HDR content. For example, the sun or a streetlight will be noticeably brighter than the surrounding scene. This is great, as it makes an image that really pops in a realistic way.

However, if you’re watching TV in a dark room, which we highly recommend for any high-quality video experience, those sizzling highlights may seem too bright, causing your eyes to become sore or scratchy. If you’ve ever stared at your phone in a dark room, you’ve probably experienced this.

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The exact same thing can happen with non-HDR products as well. Any TV that’s too bright in a dark room can cause eyestrain. Modern TVs are so much brighter than older TVs that even at lower backlight settings they can still be very bright.

Reasons for your TV to hurt your eyes

It’s really annoying when someone shines a flashlight in your eyes at night. But standing in a room with the lights on isn’t going to affect you the same. Your eye adjusts to the average amount of light hitting your retina.

A dark room with a bright TV is still, on average, dark. So your iris is wide open. But the parts of your retina getting hit by the light from the TV are overwhelmed. They get fatigued, causing the tired, scratchy feeling.

Generally, the way to prevent this is to reduce the average amount of light hitting your retina. You can do this by turning down the overall light output of the TV, or by increasing the light in the room.

Tips to watch TV without the painful eye strain

1. Sit closer or get a bigger TV

This is not just an excuse to get a bigger TV, but there are reasons that you should get one. Your eyes can get confused with a small, bright object in a dark room. The “average” amount of light is low, your irises open up, and the bright “pinpoint” of light affects part of your retinas.

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A bigger TV, or sitting closer to the smaller one, will fill a greater percentage of your field of view. With more of your eye filled with light, your irises will contract, so overall less light is hitting your retinas which will finally reduce eye fatigue.

Projectors are easier on your eyes as they create even bigger images and aren’t as bright as TVs.

2. Reduce your TVs light output

Though the obvious solution, this isn’t necessarily the most ideal. Many TVs automatically set their backlights to the maximum to show HDR content. Turning the backlight down (or turning down OLED Light on an OLED TV), can impact the way your TV displays HDR content. It’s possible the image might look odd depending on your TV.

This is not the same as the Contrast or Brightness controls. These controls typically have nothing to do with how bright a TV is.

Most TVs that support HDR will have multiple HDR presets. These might be obvious in the picture settings menu or can be labelled as Dolby Vision Bright and Dolby Vision Reference, or HDR Bright and HDR Normal. In these cases, Bright would be designed for brighter rooms, while Reference/Normal is better for darker rooms. There are other fixes if your TV does not have these modes or the lower setting is still too bright.

3. Place a lamp strategically

Turning a light on is another option, but this can create reflections (or worse, be a distraction in your eye line).

Ideal lamp placement does not mean somewhere in your eye line to the TV and definitely not somewhere it causes a reflection. This might have to be somewhere out of the ordinary, like behind a sofa.

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Dimmable recessed ceiling lights might work too, but it depends if they cause reflections on the TV. A TV mount that you can move or pivot might help with reflections, too.

Adding more light to the room raises the ‘average’ amount of light in the room, making your irises close a bit, letting less light in, and potentially causing less eye fatigue.

4. Adding a bias light

A bias light is one step further than a lamp. These neutral-white lights add a bit of light to the room, they don’t negatively impact the image on the TV but they reduce eye strain.

The colour is crucial because whatever colour the lights are, that colour is “subtracted” by your brain from the colour you see on screen. So if you have a blue light behind the TV, the TV will look red. The right colour for bias lights is a neutral white; as close to the D6500 colour temperature standard as possible.

This is not a new issue. TVs have long been far brighter than necessary for the average room. HDR does potentially make the problem worse, since they are, on the whole, much brighter than older, ‘SDR’ TVs.

If you experience eye strain with HDR or other material trying these fixes might help you.